Israel/OPT: new restrictions on Palestinian flags an attempt to 'legitimise racism'

New directive, issued by national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, describes flag as symbol of ‘terrorism’ and instructs police to remove it from public places

Israel has long history of attempting to suppress Palestinian flag

‘For decades, the Palestinian flag has been a symbol of unity and resistance to Israel’s unlawful occupation’ - Heba Morayef

An Israeli government directive which places additional restrictions on the display of Palestinian flags in public spaces is an attack on the rights to nationality, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today. 

The directive, which was issued by Israel’s new minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday, describes the Palestinian flag as a symbol of “terrorism” and instructs police to remove it from public places. 

Israeli authorities say the directive is aimed at stopping “incitement” against Israel, but it comes amid a string of measures designed to silence dissent and restrict protests, including those held in defence of Palestinian rights. Measures include a growing crackdown on Palestinian civil society, and soaring numbers of arrests and administrative detention orders used to punish Palestinian activists

Although Israeli law does not outlaw the display of Palestinian flags in Israel, police and security forces have the right to remove them if they deem them to be a threat to public order. 

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:  

“This appalling attempt to erase the identity of the Palestinian people is the latest in a series of measures that the Israeli authorities have introduced to legitimise racism and discrimination against Palestinians. 

“The farcical pretexts for this directive cannot mask the fact that the Israeli authorities are growing increasingly ruthless in their attempts to silence Palestinian voices and crush all opposition to their apartheid system. 

“As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Israel has committed to guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for everyone living under its control. Israel also has the obligation to prohibit incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence through advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred. This directive flies in the face of these obligations.  

“For decades, the Palestinian flag has been a symbol of unity and resistance to Israel’s unlawful occupation, and is used around the world as an emblem of solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

“It is deeply ironic that Israeli authorities are trying to justify this move on grounds of incitement, when the directive itself pours fuel on racial hatred and sows division. 

“It is one of many Israeli policies, enacted within the system of apartheid, designed to minimise the presence of Palestinians both physically and symbolically.” 

More than half a century of flag restrictions

The Israeli authorities have long attempted to restrict the displaying of the Palestinian flag. Two months after occupying the Palestinian territories in 1967, the authorities issued a military order which punishes and criminalises Palestinians for attending and organising processions, assemblies or vigils of ten or more people for issues that “may be construed as political”, unless they have a permit. The order, which does not define what is meant by “political”, effectively bans protests, including peaceful ones. It also prohibits the display of flags or emblems or the publication of any material “having a political significance” without a permit from an Israeli military commander. The order still applies in the West Bank including annexed East Jerusalem. 

In May last year, Israeli forces in East Jerusalem violently removed flags carried by Palestinians mourning the death of journalist Shirin Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces. On 1 June, a bill banning the hoisting of Palestinian flags in state-funded institutions in Israel passed a preliminary reading.     

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